By Agence France-Presse
Two years ago, the 50-year-old lost to French leader Emmanuel Macron in a bitter presidential election that left her physically exhausted and facing questions over her future.
But after a break, a re-branding exercise of her party — previously known as the National Front — and an overhaul of its programme, she has campaigned since January with the head of state in her sights.
In European parliament elections in France on May 26, she sees the chance not only to deal a blow to Macron’s faltering presidency, but for her ideas to move further into the political mainstream.
“Everything has changed,” she said in an interview with AFP last week in the parliamentary office she has occupied since winning a seat in the National Assembly two years ago.
“Before we were on our own on the European scene… we didn’t have any allies. But in the space of a few months, a whole range of political forces have risen up in spectacular fashion,” she said.
In the last year and half, parties who share her anti-immigration and anti-EU positions have entered governments in Italy and Austria, while making gains in parliaments from Berlin to Stockholm and even Madrid.
France has been the exception, where Macron and his new centrist, pro-European party Republic on the Move kept the populists out of power in 2017.
Le Pen has called for the European polls to be a referendum on Macron’s term just as the 41-year-old looks to recover from six months of anti-government protests by “yellow vest” demonstrators.
“At the national level, if he comes out on top, he will obviously draw an illusionary sense of legitimacy and start what he has called the ‘Second Act’ of his term,” Le Pen said.
“So I am saying to the French: get in his way, I beg you. Stop him by voting for the only party list in front of Emmanuel Macron,” Le Pen added.
Polls show Le Pen’s party, now named the National Rally, winning about 22-24 percent the election, a slight edge over the centrist alliance that includes Macron’s party.
The election will see voters across the European Union cast ballots for party lists, with the share of votes then determining how many MPs on the list are sent to the European parliament.
Under the changes pushed through by Le Pen, the National Rally has ditched its long-standing policy of wanting to leave the EU — a so-called “Frexit” — and its proposal to abandon the euro common currency.
Instead, she proposes unpicking the bloc from the inside, rolling back its treaties and common rules and turning it into a “union of nation states” who act independently.
“We took into account what the French people told us,” she said. “They don’t want to leave the euro, but that does not mean we can’t improve it.”